Sting nets 10 arrests of unlicensed contractors in Hernando

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BROOKSVILLE — An undercover operation cracking down on unlicensed contractors netted 10 arrests and civil citations totaling $9,675.

The sheriff’s office, working with the Hernando County Building Department, conducted a two-day sting this month to enforce what both agencies have identified as a growing problem.

The arrests made were in several trades, including: tree removal, tile installation, electrical, roofing, plumbing, general and residential contracting.

All those arrested had advertised their businesses publicly and didn’t hold the appropriate licenses for the work they agreed to perform. Two arrests were made for people driving on suspended driver’s licenses.

All had a combined total of ten misdemeanors and four felony previous arrests in Hernando County, including grand theft and organized fraud.

During the operation, Kenneth Chianese (tile/drywall), Scott Pikorz (residential contracting), Gerald Hartman (roofing), Allen Wilbert (plumbing), Zachory Saffold (residential contracting), James Heywood (electrical), Scott Budlove (residential contracting) and James Lupini (tree removal) were found to be conducting listed work without having the required license, a first-degree misdemeanor.

Nienhuis said enforcing the law requiring all contracting trades to be licensed is important for several reasons.

“First, it is grossly unfair to those legitimate businesses that go through the process of becoming licensed and insured,” Nienhuis said. “Second, citizens have almost no recourse when the contractor makes a costly mistake because an unlicensed contractor cannot get liability insurance.

“Finally, unlicensed contracting often attracts those people who are deliberately defrauding our senior citizens,” Nienhuis said.

James Friedrichs, the county’s building official, said he would like to see more such combined sting operations.

“Unlicensed contractors pose a significant threat to homeowners in Hernando County in that they are not qualified to perform work requiring license and typically carry no liability or Workman’s Compensation insurance to protect the homeowner from the consequences of injury or property damage,” Friedrichs said in a memo to Sheriff Al Nienhuis.

Friedrichs said the undercover operation, which took place July 1-2, was a “job well done by all”

“It has been our experience that unlicensed contractors have a history of past criminal activity including fraud and exploitation of elderly,” he wrote.

County Commissioner Dave Russell, who also runs a pool business in Spring Hill, said he was pleased with the crackdown and hopes it sends a message that Hernando County will not tolerate unlicensed contractors.

“This is a problem in the county,” said Russell. “As a licensed contractor, I run into this all the time. Consumers have to be wary.”

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